I’m Super, Thanks for Asking! Alta’s Velvet-fisted Redshift SM

By Max Klein, with Fish
Photography: Angelica Rubalcaba
Riders: Max Klein & Fish

While some brands are focused on making a good electric motorcycle, Alta decided to simply make a good motorcycle, one that happens to be powered by electrons instead of ancient dinosaur remains.

But before I get into the meat and potatoes, let’s talk about the dish this tasty meal super-meal-to is served in. The Redshift looks like a purpose-built dirt bike, so much so that on my first ride someone up at The Wall thought it was a mysteriously modern Rotax-powered KTM.

The KTM comparison shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that has followed the Alta story for any length of time—after all, they used a KTM belonging to one of the co-founders as a benchmark. And it has suspension by WP front and rear, which as you may be aware is owned by KTM. It has Brembo brakes. It has Warp Nine wheels.

Honestly, after reading what I just wrote, I feel a little bad for laughing at the guy up at the wall. Sorry, bro.

Alta’s Redshift is powered—in all its forms, dirt, dual-sport, or supermoto—by a liquid-cooled, 40 horsepower motor with 120 foot-pounds of torque.

Yes, liquid-cooled, and no, that triple-digit torque number is not a misprint.

To put that in perspective, most 250 race machines out there are putting down about the same number of ponies, but come up about 100 foot-pounds short in the shoulder dislocation department.

Weighing in at 283 pounds (fully charged!) the Redshift is only about 60 pounds heavier than most of the gasser 250s, a comparison I mention because the 250 comparison class is what the folks at Alta had in mind while they developed the Redshift.

Keeping that power in check is a combination of your hopefully-judicious right wrist and fancy-pants electronics. Alta gives you four power modes ranging from “rain” to “overclocked,” and each one offers up their own interpretation of the 40/120 combination. Power mode one, henceforth known as Rain, brings the power on slow, giving you the most traction potential but also the least amount of regen—and, let’s face it, fun… Safety first or whatever.

Modes two and three are confusingly named as Commute 1 and Commute 2. They are basically interchangeable for power delivery, and I was not able to tell the two apart, although Alta tells us that Commute 2 (AKA Mode 3) is the most optimized for output / battery life / traction / regen.

That brings us to Mode 4, a bit nerdily-named as Overclocked, known around CityBike World Headquarters as Fuck Yeah mode. There is literally—literally, I tell you—no joy greater than staying in the powerband from a dead stop all the way up to the absolute limits of 40 horsepower and 120 foot-pounds of torque.

No shifting getting in the way, no dips in the torque curve, just electrons screaming as I ripped them from the battery and threw them at the motor. I was not running a stopwatch, so I have no idea how long it took me to get to 90 MPH, but once the bike made sure I was not going to do a standing back flip, the power stayed at the same level until I was going 10 MPH faster than the Alta’s claimed top speed.

Rolling off at that speed resulted in an equally violent display of “engine braking,” in the form of battery regen. Of all the electrics I have been on, the Redshift has the best approximation of engine braking feel. At faster speeds, it was almost like grabbing two downshifts on a gas bike.

For an added rush, you can wind out Commute 2 on the freeway (75 MPH indicated) and with the throttle pinned switch to Overclocked for an almost instant 10 MPH bump. It felt like that scene in Back to the Future III, when Doc Brown made those hotter-burning logs for the train.

The SM’s battery pack is a very energy-dense 5.8kWh deal that uses some proprietary honeycomb stacking tech, bitchin’ engineering I’m sure, which I am not smart enough to fully explain. I can tell you that it does get quite warm when run hard and that Alta says they’ve made sure their batteries cool faster and better than any others used in vehicular applications.

If you’ve read my previous electric bike reviews, by now you must be scratching your head, wondering how I could have made it this far without going on some tirade about range anxiety how at some point or another have I have not ended up in a should-have-known-better situation where I’m running the battery down to zero, 20 miles away from home.

How is that possible? Well, for starters I embraced the fact that Alta makes performance, race-ready motorcycles. I had no delusions that I was going to make the trip from CityBike World Headquarters to my house in the east-east bay, so I didn’t try it. I stayed local, spun laps on Redwood and ate tacos. We even had Big Vancy waiting for us during our photoshoot, so a flat battery in the middle of nowhere would not have been anything more than a mild inconvenience.

No drama.

Alta not only has succeeded in making a damn fine motorcycle, regardless of power source—they have somehow manufactured confidence. With no shifting needed, I found myself focusing more on line choice, braking, and general hooliganism. In the words of Alta CEO Marc Fenigstein, “When you can take some stress away, what occupies that space? Joy. Suddenly you’re a badass.”

Thanks for making me a badass, Alta.

Fish: Brake Me Off A Piece

Electric bikes are all the rage now!

Okay, maybe not, but the technology is moving along. Sure, the manufacturers of electric motorcycles are taking the idea seriously, but based on the electric bikes I’ve recently ridden, most notably Energica’s paradigm-shifting Ego and Eva, it’s time for more riders to be taking these quiet contraptions seriously.

Alta has decided that we need to focus less on fast charging or urban practicality, and more on hauling ass. Specifically hauling ass with a sticky tire-shod dirtbike. Like Max said, a battery-powered KTM.

I’m not new to Supermotos. The venerable DRZ-SM was one of my first Bay Area motorcycles. But I still swoon a little, every time, at the sight of an oddly proportioned dirtbike sitting on fat 17s and a huge front brake. That stopping power demands respect, but treat the package right and you have a recipe for immeasurable happiness on two wheels.

Alta has clearly done their homework in the chassis department. The Redshift’s top shelf Brembo and WP components are not just great quality, they’re well-sorted and well-matched. You can tell the bike is more than just another production bike the first time you twist the go-grip.

Speaking of GO, that’s what the Redshift does. The 40-horse, 120 foot-pound specs don’t lie. What does catch you off guard is the delivery.

This isn’t some rip your face off and laugh kind of power delivery. Twisting the throttle results in very smooth, yet incredibly forceful acceleration. I would describe it as an FJR1300 engine shoved into a KTM 250, without the weight.

The Redshift SM is 100% supermoto—it just happens to be a supermoto with a velvet smooth thrust. Wait! Velvet smooth thrust on a supermoto? What fun is that?

Well, yes, it lacks the braap that we’ve come to know and love, but it’s not something to lament. The electric powerplant is capable of making its 120 foot-pounds at one RPM. That kind of force creates an unrideable bike, no matter how talented you think you are. While gassers employ traction control and other modern rider aids to tame such power, the Redshift, being completely electric, simply handles it in software. The end result is a hugely powerful SM that’s actually rideable.

The thing about obscene power is that it needs obscene brakes, and the SM’s Brembo binders are more than up to the task. The front is exactly what you’d expect on any competition level SM, but what makes it really work is the well-sorted forks. If you’ve ever ridden a haphazardly assembled SM, you know what I’m talking about. Being so high up means that undersprung and underdamped forks make for a bike that wallows and floats when you try to transition to brakes, often resulting in an awkward stoppie on the front bump stops.

None of that happens here. The front end is extremely well-matched. Gentle squeezing of the brake lever results in the right amount of fork squish, bringing the once-blurred scenery quickly into focus.

Out back is another twist bestowed upon us by our new electric overlords. Engine braking and downshifting are gone, replaced by regen—a helpful tool, but it doesn’t get you the same feeling as clutch-dumping a two-gear downshift on corner entry. Truth be told, this might be something to lament. In its place, Alta does give the Redshift a very eager rear brake. I’ve never been one to slide the rear via braking, so this is a new experience for me.

The more electric bikes I ride, the more I get used to these little differences. There’s a different skillset applied to managing this kind of power delivery and decel activity. The regen mentioned by Max is useful, but it’s not the kind of snap that aides in upsetting the chassis. It’s actually smoother than rear brake application.

What makes up the rest of the bike is very traditionally dirtbike-y. The spartan digital display is helpful without being dazzling. Range remaining is displayed in percentage, not miles. This is particularly helpful in reminding you that your job is to go fast, not count miles. The mode selector is user friendly. All the other relevant controls are traditional pieces just as you’d expect them to be.

The electric-powered transportation argument seems to rage onward with varying degrees of concept proof, but that’s somewhat irrelevant here. Alta has accomplished their goal of making a focused Supermoto that’s not just a parody of a gas-powered bike, but rather a machine that stands on its own merits. As Max noted, there’s no false pretense of utility-based range here, this is a competition ready packaged focused on racing. It’s easy to make a comparison to the Energica lineup as well: these are full-on badass motorcycles that happen to burn electrons instead of hydrocarbons.

I’m still not ready to call myself an e-bike enthusiast, but there’s no denying the capability of this package.

Extra special thanks to SF’s first and only Alta dealer, BMW & Alta Motorcycles of SF, for trusting us with their demo bikes for the weekend!

This story originally appeared in our January 2018 issue, which you can read in all its original high-res glory here